Chai Hu, aka Bupleurum

Chai  Hu

Leaves and flowers of Bupleurum gibraltaricum

The Chinese herb Chai Hu, also known by its botanical name Bupleurum falcatum or just as “bupleurum”, is a mainstay of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM uses bupleurum as one of many ingredients in herbal formulas, although scientific researchers have found unique uses for single unique components of the plant.

What Is Chai Hu?

Chai Hu is an Asian member of the same plant family as carrots and parsley. It flowers in umbels, spherical clusters of dozens of tiny flowers that appear at the top of the plant. This herb was not used in TCM in ancient times, but it has appeared in dozens of herbal “recipes” over the last 500 years.

What Is the Traditional Understanding of How Chai Hu Works?

Traditional Chinese Medicine described the effects of herbs in terms of metaphors that guided practitioners to practical uses of plants. Chai Hu was described as a “cooling” plant. That does not mean it literally lowered temperature. Instead, it corrected hyperactive energies.

In the “Liver,” which[according to TCM] ancient herbalists understood as the place emotions were stored, Chai Hu relieved blockages or stagnation of the Qi energy. Chai Hu was included into a formula to assist release emotion constraints,  so that they did not congeal into physical problems in other parts of the body. These constraints of of Liver Qi energy would and could manifest at liver, breasts and or eyes conditions .

In the “Spleen,” Chai Hu contributed to reduce the effects of gastrointestinal upset. It stopped vomiting, relieved pressure on the chest and took away [any] bitter or metallic tastes that linger in the mouth.

Chai Hu also helped the Qi flow through a channel called the Middle Jiao. It has an upwards lifting effect thus helping with formulas to assist  uterine prolapse and hemorrhoids.

Why Are Medical Scientists Interested in Chai Hu Formulas Today?

Researchers are looking at novel uses of this ancient herb. One team of researchers ( Lorrai I, et al 2017) investigating the use of a chemical component of the plant, a saikosaponin, as a method treating chocolate addiction. [1] Another group of scientists is refining another chemical in Chai Hu as an antidote for panadol poisoning.[2] Yet another research team is using Chai Hu as a natural biofactory to create gold nanoparticles, which creates highly bioactive enzymes.[3]

It has turned out that ancient herbal formulas that contain bupleurum have some remarkable, clinically tested effects when they are used to treat illness as conventional, scientific medicine understands it.

Xiao Chai Hu Tang, which is also known by its Japanese name, sho-saiko-to, and by its English name, Minor Bupleurum Decoction, has a major impact in treating medically defined liver diseases.  Clinical trials have found that this bupleurum formula slows the destruction of liver tissue by fibrosis and fatty infiltration. [In a study by [insert], it was shown to reduce] It reduces the risk of liver cancer in people who have chronic viral hepatitis. [4] A clinical trial at Sloan-Kettering Hospital In New York City confirmed that it slowed the progression of hepatitis C in patients who were [unsuitable] not candidates for interferon (this formula must not be used with interferon) or modern treatments like Sovaldi.[5] A variation of this formula is used to help children reduce the symptoms of tonsillitis to reduce the the possibility of a tonsillectomy  and it has also been used to stop life-threatening symptoms of toxic shock.[6]

Major Bupleurum Decoction, Da Chai Hu Tang, also known by its Japanese name dai-saiko-to,  is clinically demonstrated to relieve severe menstrual cramps.[7] And bupleurum is one of a number of ingredients in a Japanese herbal formula called bofu-tsusho-san, which aid people who have diabetes lose weight.

What Can Go Wrong with Chai Hu?

(Bupleurum )

There is one prominent drug interaction with Chai Hu (bupleurum). People who take interferon should never take any kind of formula that contains Chai Hu. Other than that, the problem with formulas that contain Chai Hu is most likely to be that it works too well.  People who take Chai Hu formulas to prevent vomiting may find they have no appetite at all. People who take Chai Hu formulas to prevent anxiety or tension may find it just a little too easy to, for instance, curl up and take a nap. Used with professional guidance, however, Chai Hu formulas can be remarkably effective.  [Insert something about always disclose to your doctor any herbal medicine/anything you take]

[1] Lorrai I, Maccioni P, Carai MA, Capra A, Castelli MP, Riva A, Morazzoni P, Gessa GL, Colombo G. Suppressing effect of saikosaponin A, an active ingredient of Bupleurum falcatum, on chocolate self-administration and reinstatement of chocolate seeking in rats. Neurosci Lett. 2017 Jan 18;638:211-217. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.12.019. Epub 2016 Dec 19. PMID: 28007642.

[2] Liu A, Tanaka N, Sun L, Guo B, Kim JH, Krausz KW, Fang Z, Jiang C, Yang J, Gonzalez FJ. Saikosaponin d protects against acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity by inhibiting NF-κB and STAT3 signaling.

Chem Biol Interact. 2014 Nov 5;223:80-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2014.09.012. Epub 2014 Sep 27.

PMID: 25265579.

[3] Lee YJ, Cha SH, Lee KJ, Kim YS, Cho S, Park Y. Plant Extract (Bupleurum falcatum) as a Green Factory for Biofabrication of Gold Nanoparticles. Nat Prod Commun. 2015 Sep;10(9):1593-6. PMID: 26594767.

[4] Lee JK, Kim JH, Shin HK. Therapeutic effects of the oriental herbal medicine Sho-saiko-to on liver cirrhosis and carcinoma. Hepatol Res. 2011 Sep;41(9):825-37. doi: 10.1111/j.1872-034X.2011.00829.x. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

PMID: 21682829.

[5] Morgan TR. Chemoprevention of hepatocellular carcinoma in chronic hepatitis C. Recent Results Cancer Res. 2011;188:85-99. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-10858-7_7. Review. PMID: 21253791.

[6] Sakaguchi S, Furusawa S, Iizuka Y. Preventive effects of a traditional Chinese medicine (Sho-saiko-to) on septic shock symptoms; approached from heme metabolic disorders in endotoxemia. Biol Pharm Bull. 2005 Jan;28(1):165-8. PMID: 15635185.

[7] Horiba Y, Yoshino T, Watanabe K. Daisaikoto for menstrual pain: a lesson from a case with menstrual pain successfully treated with daisaikoto. Case Rep Med. 2015;2015:929514. doi: 10.1155/2015/929514. Epub 2015 Feb 22. PMID: 25792985.



The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for treatment purposes, but rather for discussion with the patient’s own physician. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of professional medical care.

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Rodd Sanchez Sydney acupuncture and Chinese medicine